On My Way
Runtime 113 minutes.
OK for children.
I went to see Catherine Deneuve, one of the most beautiful actresses of her generation. What I got was a terrific road movie out of a story that one might think prospectively is going to be a chick flick designed to drive men away. But it’s far from that.
Bettie (Deneuve) is an aging beauty queen who lives with her mother and owns a restaurant that is in financial trouble. In the first ten minutes she gets unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend and, despondent, impulsively hops in her car for a drive which changes her life.
Writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot combined two desires in one film. The first was to make a movie with Deneuve, who she says is “part of my growing up.” The second was to make a road movie.
But this is not your normal road movie because, due to a limited budget and shot on location in Brittany, Bercot shows very little scenery and hardly ever shows Bettie behind the wheel. Even so, the character of the countryside shines through. “Le Ranch,” the seedy nightclub where Bettie stops for a while, is the real thing. “You can’t invent places like this,” says Bercot.
What she does show is a woman achieving her freedom as she encounters experiences she’d never meet had she stayed in her restaurant and with her mother as one day after another morphed into the next decade of sameness.
The film also deals with mother-daughter relationships, not only with Bettie and her mother, but with Bettie and her estranged daughter, Muriel (played by French singer Camille). Bettie has allowed herself to become confined in a stifling life. By taking to the road she is unknowingly declaring her independence late in life.
Most French films are set in Paris or the Riviera. In this one Bercot wanted to tell the story of rural France, and that’s what Bettie drives through. The people she meets are the people of rural France.
Most of the “actors” are just real people that Bercot and the crew met as they were filming. Even Marco (Paul Hamy), who picks Bettie up in Le Ranch, never acted before, but you certainly can’t tell that from his performance.
This is also true of Nemo Schiffman, who plays Bettie’s grandson. Schiffman is Bercot’s son (with cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman), who came to the set just to meet Deneuve. Bercot decided to put him in the film in one short scene where he would hug her, but that grew into one of the most important parts in the movie.
Dealing with non-actors one might think that there would be a lot of improvisation, but that was not the case. The cast stuck pretty much with the script except for two scenes, one of Bettie with an old man who rolls a cigarette for her, and another with a farmer Bettie asks for directions. The one with the old man goes on for what I thought was too long until I discovered that Deneuve was asking him non-scripted questions and he was really answering about his real life. Knowing this, the scene is fascinating.
Even her son’s grandfather (Gérard Garouste) is acting for the first time. A friend of Deneuve’s, she asked him if he wanted to play the role. Giving a fine performance, Deneuve says he found it “amusing.”
Some Deneuve fans may find what look like little homages to Deneuve’s work for other revered French directors like François Dupeyron, François Truffaut, and André Téchiné. While Bercot acknowledges that they are there, she says that it wasn’t really intentional.
Deneuve gives a wonderful performance, appearing in just about every scene. But there’s much more to this film than merely seeing a ‘60s-era beauty as a still beautiful older woman.
Runtime 128 minutes.
Not for children.
Clive Owen was my choice to play James Bond before Daniel Craig was chosen. He’s still my choice, even though he’s getting a little long in the tooth.
However, here he’s a guy on the other side of the spectrum. He plays Chris, an ex-con just released from jail. His brother, Frank (Billy Crudup), provides a place for him to live with family, even though they apparently hate one another. Even though Frank is a good person and Chris is a pimp and all around bad guy, Chris is the favorite of their father, Leon (James Caan).
Writer (with James Gray)- director Guillaume Canet (best known in America for his brilliant 2006 French production of Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel Tell No One) chose to remake Les Liens Du San (2008, in which Canet played the lead), as his first English language film. Canet fills the screen with wonderful performances by a terrific cast, including Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard as Monica, a prostitute and Chris’s former wife, Zoe Saldana as Vanessa, after whom Frank yearns, Matthias Schoenaerts as Scarfo, Vanessa’s husband who is in prison, and Mila Kunis as Natalie, Chris’s girlfriend. The performances of all are so good that to single one out over the others would be unfair.
Even though the film is more than two hours long and has a lot of talk, Canet keeps the pace and tension on such a level that the length isn’t a problem. Despite the fact that the film is unremittingly depressing, I never had the inclination to leave. Compensating for the gloomy story is the outstanding acting. There isn’t a weak performance in the entire film.
Consistent with the high quality of this film, there is a car chase at the end that is probably one of the more realistic filmed in the past several decades. It’s not on the level of Bullitt (1968) or The French Connection (1971), but it’s much more believable, especially when compared to all the ridiculous impersonators we have been forced to endure since those two classics appeared.
There is one thing that detracts from the movie. While it is a violent film, both emotionally and physically, and while violence is properly shown, what is reprehensible is that the effects of violence are ignored. One scene that was particularly jarring occurs when Chris, in a fit of anger, butts his head against a steel door frame, not once, but several times, and very hard. It just so happens that my guest at the film was a woman who was recovering from a subdural hematoma (the same thing that killed actress Natasha Richardson). These are caused by blows to the head and, if not treated immediately, can be fatal. My friend’s was caused by bumping her head as she entered her car, a blow much less violent than what Chris does. She ignored it until her headaches became too severe to ignore. While it cleared up by itself without surgery, her doctor told her she was lucky because only 25% get that kind of result. She found this scene to be upsetting and so did I. What is shameful is that Canet shows this kind of damage to the head with virtually no consequences save a little blood dripping down Chris’s face. It’s this kind of violence in film with no consequence that is irresponsible, and harmful by the impression it leaves on easily influenced viewers. Filmmakers should have a duty to show that there are consequences to violence. Sure, people are shown dying when they get shot (some of the cold-blooded killings are shocking in their suddenness and lack of emotion), but there are vicious beatings in this movie and, except for showing the victims bleeding, they still get up to live another day without any effects.
Other than that, this is an exceptionally well-made film.